If you cook with some regularity, it’s likely that spices are part of your kitchen routine. It’s okay to celebrate this. Like exclamation points and the toy surprise in a box of Cracker Jacks, spices add that little something extra that so many of us enjoy.
Just after college graduation, I purchased some spices for use in my first apartment. I put them in a kitchen cabinet and used them in my cooking endeavors, but due to the set-up, it was hard to know which spice container I was reaching for at any given moment. I very quickly learned that paprika and basil are not interchangeable. So how to make your spice collection accessible, long-lasting, and user-friendly? Noodle on the following tips and hopefully some of them will work well in a kitchen near you:
As usual, organization is your friend
The spices you use most often should be easily accessible in your pantry, cabinet, or wherever you store these lovely little jars of wonderment. Beyond that, organize your spices however you feel so inclined. Some people organize them alphabetically. Others organize them by height or by type (i.e. all baking spices in one section, all Thai spices in another, all “staple” spices in a third section).
When used effectively, a spice organizer is your friend
Spice organizers are a great way to keep all of those little bottles in one place without taking up much counter space or having them get topsy-turvy in your pantry. But it’s crucial that you use said organizer effectively.
The organizer should be set-up so that you can see the label for each spice jar. If you can’t see the label, it can’t see you…no, wait. That’s not relevant. But it’s true that if you can’t see the label, it won’t do you much good. If your organizer does not allow you to see the label affixed to each jar, simply affix your own label to each jar’s top using white tape and a felt-tip pen. My brother and sister-in-law gave us a lovely three-tier spice organizer when we got married. Friends I know prefer the lazy-Susan-type spice organizer or the graduated spice rack. I know you’ll find the organizer that makes your heart sing and your cooking sizzle.
Maximize the shelf-life of your spices
Generally speaking, whole herbs and spices last longer than their crushed or ground counterparts. To check ground spices for freshness, confirm if they have an aroma. No aroma = no longer fresh.
Tip: Buy whole herbs and spices and crush or grind them as needed. A coffee grinder, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle work wonders.
Spices and herbs should be kept in tightly closed containers in a cool, dry, dark place. Accordingly, you may wish to steer clear of storing your spices near your dishwasher or atop your refrigerator. Same goes for near your range, the place that tends to be the most convenient for your inner chef. When their aromatic oils evaporate, spices and herbs lose their flavor. Heat, air, and light can cause the oils to evaporate – so plan accordingly.
Screw-cap containers are generally better than their flip-top cousins because the screw-caps can be tightly resealed. This is especially helpful in keeping dampness from entering your spice jars and causing caking.
According to a variety of online sources, your spice storage lifetimes are as follows:
- Whole spices: 2-5 years
- Ground spices: 6 months-2 years
- Leafy herbs: 3 months-2 years
- Dehydrated vegetables: 6 months
Tip: Make note of the date of purchase on each spice jar’s label. Then check them once a year and replace as needed.
Looking to spice up your spice collection? Check out my favorite spice shop, to which I was introduced by the hubster and his family. Visit Penzeys Spices online or, better yet, in person! You’ll be glad you did.
* Photo by Jonathan Eggers